Society of Fellows


SOF News October 2017

Pamela Keech, Orchard Street, 2017
Photo: Cassandra Pena
Closet recreation, Bella and Bluma Epstein c. 1959
Photo: Pamela Keech
Bedroom recreation, Bella and Bluma Epstein c. 1959
Photo: Pamela Keech
Kitchen recreation c. 1969, Saez/Velez family
Photo: Pamela Keech
Living room recreation, Saez/Velez family, c. 1969
Photo: Pamela Keech
Detail, living room recreation, Saez/Velez family
Photo: Pamela Keech
Recreated bedroom, Wong family daughters, c. 1975
Photo: Pamela Keech
Recreated Chinese garment factory, early 1980s
Photo: Pamela Keech
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Pamela Keech, distinguished senior curator at the Tenement Museum, has completed the furnishing of her seventh apartment recreation, Under One Roof.

Opening this fall, Under One Roof is the museums’s first interpretation of post–World War II homes. Set in adjoining apartments at 103 Orchard Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, it tells the stories of three families who came to America as refugees in the mid-twentieth century and made homes there. The families are: Holocaust survivors, ca. 1959, Puerto Rican migrants ca. 1969, and Chinese immigrants ca. 1976. All have descendants whose oral histories and interior photos were instrumental in designing and furnishing their rooms. Keech collected over six hundred objects for the exhibit, searching antique shops, flea markets, and the internet.

In addition to the family stories, Under One Roof includes a recreation of a Chinese garment factory ca. 1980s. Keech procured six mid-twentieth-century industrial sewing machines. They stand in two rows amidst a clutter of fabric bolts and scraps, spools of thread, paper patterns, bundles of garments to be assembled, completed garments, kid’s toys, and a rice cooker. Sound and video embedded in the installation tell the stories of Chinese women who worked in the factories, relied on their union, and winked at the misadventures of their children who played in the factories after school.

Keech started making installations in the late 1970s while in graduate school at Ohio State University. In 1980 she wrote a gothic/murder novella, Lust at Fox Gorge, as her thesis. Against her advisor’s advice she constructed the setting in the university gallery—five rooms and a garden with a working fountain. No one know what to call it, but it got her the Rome Prize.

During 1981–82, her fellowship year, she became a special fan of Rome’s Protestant Cemetery, St. Claire of Assisi, and the sculptor Edmonia Lewis. Her installation in the Fellows’ annual exhibition, Experiments in the Lost Art of Poisoning, was an eighteen-foot lace canopy surrounding the scene of small dinner party during which the guest was poisoned by the entrée. That summer, along with her fellow Fellows in the School of Fine Arts, she showed at Artisti Quattro Accademie Straniere in Roma at Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna. Of Neglect and Infidelity was reviewed by John R. Clarke, RAAR 1995, in the October 1982 issue of Arts Magazine. Keech served on the Society of Fellows Council from 1994 to 2004 and was president of the SOF from 2000 to 2004.

Keech continued making large-scale period installations into the early 1990s when she became discouraged by the issues of cost, transport, and storage. While walking on the Lower East Side she discovered the Tenement Museum, which was just getting started at 97 Orchard Street. The museum presented an opportunity to install her work permanently. Keech has been the one and only furnishings curator at the museum since its opening in 1994. The earliest apartment is set in 1869, the latest (until now) in 1935.

The Museum is located at 103 Orchard Street in New York. It is open by guided tour only; advance reservations are recommended.